Research reveals that Farmers engaging in alternative money making activities are putting food security in the East African countries at risk

The increased number of farmers opting to supplement their incomes by engaging in alternative money venturing activities is putting food security in the East African countries at risk.

This is according to recently published research by the Partnership for Economic Research (PEP), carried out to initiate policy dialogue on the trade-offs that accrue as a result of reduced farm activities by farmers, especially in high agriculture producing areas.

“We are seeing more people opting to be boda-boda( motorbike) riders or market traders instead of farmers. They use the income earned from off-farm activities to buy clothes, food, education, better health, and hardly invest in their farms. This results in lower agricultural productivity and consequently less food at the community and country level,” said Dr Laura Barasa, the lead researcher, economist, and lecturer at the University of Nairobi, School of Economics.

The research published in February 2019 and titled “How integrating pro-agriculture and pro-welfare policies can enhance farmer’s production and welfare in Uganda and Tanzania”,  used secondary data from the Living Standards Measurement Study-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) from Tanzania (2008-2012), and Uganda (2009-2011).  The research findings are applicable to the Kenyan context.

The stakeholders who gathered in Nairobi to discuss the research findings, wanted agricultural budgetary allocations increased in the three East African countries.

Policymakers also called upon the governments, to institute policies to encourage farmers to participate in agriculture even while engaging in other activities. Policies fostering the processing and commercialization of agriculture produce at the local area would give farmers incentives not to abandon or sell off their farms.

“We should think of agriculture and manufacturing as complementing not competing entities and none should be favoured over the other. Farmers need to be encouraged to keep producing by extending subsidies for farm inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, value addition, commercializing of agricultural output and cash transfer programs,” she added.

About 20 percent of households engage in off-farm activities (mining, government jobs eg teachers, manufacturing, transport, trade, agro-processing, retail trading etc). Compared to on-farm households, the total value of agricultural harvest for households participating in off-farm activities is about 83 percent lower for Tanzania and 29 percent lower for Uganda.

In contrast, consumption expenditure for households participating in off-farm activities is about 26 percent greater than for households engaging in on-farm activities for Tanzania only. These effects are considered negative to food security.

Public underinvestment in agriculture, particularly in Africa, was acknowledged in the African Union’s Maputo Declaration of 2003. Signatory nations including Kenya committed to allocating 10 percent of government expenditures to agriculture and rural development. The Malabo Declaration of 2014 further emphasised this need. Never the less, only four countries led by Malawi at 15.8 percent have achieved the threshold.

“The future of smallholder farming in Kenya lies in the measures taken to stimulate the rural non-farm economy.  There is a need to provide jobs for those exiting farming to minimize rural-urban migration; provide favorable rural investment climate to stop arable land being sold-off for real estate; and provision of public goods and institutional development,”  said Joseph Opiyo, a Senior research assistant and Agriculture Economist at Egerton University, Tegemeo Institute of Agricultural policy and development.

“Non-farm work has also put pressure on the availability of farm labour. To be food sufficient we need to look for ways to make both lucrative,” says Opiyo.

This discussion is especially critical as Kenya pushes towards the Big Four Agenda with a push towards manufacturing and food security. Tanzania and Uganda have implemented policies that promote off-farm employment as a path to growth.

The East African Community (EAC) has also been keen on formulating harmonized policies aimed at increasing productivity and farmers’ incomes.


  1. This is a danger to our food security. Since people naturally follow profits, as long as farming gives them less than other ventures, they will keep doing that.


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